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Guinea-Bissau assassinations: Is Colombia's drug trade behind them?

The murder of the president and the Army chief on Monday raises questions about the nature of the instability in this African nation.

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Gone: Renegade soldiers gunned down Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernando Vieira on Monday.

Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

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The assassinations were committed gangland style – a bomb in a stairwell, and a rapid fire shootout – which is perhaps not so surprising in a country that has swiftly become a major transit hub for narcotics into Europe.

But the tit-for-tat revenge killings of Guinea-Bissau's top two leaders, its Army chief and its president, have left this poor country without leaders and the prospect of continued military rule.

By Monday evening, the tiny African country's Army had shut down two private radio stations, and had escorted the president's widow and children to the home of the United Nations representative in Guinea-Bissau.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces assured citizens on state-run radio that no coup was in process, but that the Army would respect the Constitution and allow the head of parliament to succeed the president.

Unstable region

Coming just a month after an apparently popular coup in the neighboring country of Guinea, the double assassinations in Guinea-Bissau are a troubling sign for a region with weak institutions for self-government and strong incentives for corruption.

"This is bad news for the country, and there are real risks of factional fighting between elements of the military," says Richard Moncrieff, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, based in Dakar, Senegal. "But the question now is what direction the Army intervention takes. To my mind, the risks are the mid-level officers, [who] are not used to running a country and tend to react harshly if a problem comes up."

With a weak economy and institutions of governance, it's not surprising that Guinea-Bissau is seen as a haven for criminal enterprises.

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